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BookSprints: OTTSprint

Open Translation Tools Sprint

Once again, the Book Sprint proves there are no fixed rules. This sprint evolved out of the Open Translation Tools conferences that have been organised by San Francisco based Aspiration (http://www.aspirationtech.org). From the outset we were determined to find a way to mix the OTT conference, facilitated by Allen Gunn, into the pre-sprint development.

We had no clear idea about how this was to develop, except that the sprint facilitator (Adam Hyde) would be present at each session to show people the FLOSS Manuals tool set and how to use it, and explain to anyone that wanted to know the idea of a Book Sprint. One idea which was discussed in brief was to write out a suggested Index on paper and put it on the wall for discussion. Building on a suggestion from the CiviCRM sprint (to have "more sticky notes") Adam built the Index on the wall using sticky notes with two of the unconference participants (thanks Eileen and Peter for this suggestion!).


Through out the next three days participants were invited to comment on the index, replace and add items, and commit to writing material remotely (after the conference had finished).

This process was quite effective in drawing people together to discuss the sprint, and it did result in some remote contributions, but this process could probably be more effectively utilised by getting specific commitments from people, possibly noted in a spread sheet or simple text document.

The Venue

We were situated at De Waag, a beautiful venue at the heart of Amsterdam. The venue was sponsored by The Society for Old and New Media which is located in the building.


It was a great venue for the event and added a very unique 'once in a life time' feel to the experience.

The Sprint

The unconference ran for 3 days, and then hot on the heels was 5 days of sprints. We were suffering a little from fatigue but still there was a lot done on the first day. The dynamic of the sprint was different from previous sprints in that most of the people with 'expert' knowledge were only in the sprint for the first day. We had 15 people on that day, and only 5-9 in the following days (most of which did not know a great deal about the topic). This low 'expert' to 'newbie' ratio was a product of the time commitment required to do a 3 day conference, and then a 5 day sprint. Not many people can commit to that kind of time. So we had to work in a slightly different manner. Firstly, day one was not a discussion day about the Index or scope of the manual, it was just writing. The idea was to get as much content down as possible without discussion on the scope, target audience, tone etc. The next days were spent 'ironing out' the content that was dumped that day.


This worked very effectively. Day two the smaller team spent the day writing, and structuring the first two sections. By 1/2 way through the third day, these sections were completed. The rest of days 3 and 4 were spent restructuring the next 4 sections, and the last day was committed to cleaning up and filling out the existing content in the later sections. This got us home.

Interestingly, there was no discussion about target audience. However this became clear as the group rolled down the table of contents and realised that the manual was pretty much targeted at people wanting to learn about Open Translation and get involved. Hence the manual was an overview coupled with some specifics about how to get involved and how to improve your translations.

Book Two

In day two it was apparent that there were 3 contributors that did not have much expertise in translation but who could contribute a lot to another manual on video subtitling. So this group split off from the other sprinters and focused on writing a very practical work book for subtitling video using Free Software. Since FLOSS Manuals already had some manuals available on subtitling tools, this material could be included in the manual using our 'include' mechanism.

This second book is very good and totaled 120 pages of very useful and practical information for anyone wanting to make subtitles.

Facilitator Contributor

One interesting issue that arose is that the facilitator (Adam) also contributed a lot of content. This is not usually the case as the facilitator is usually facilitating. However, due to the low number of people with 'domain knowledge' the facilitator wrote a lot of material. This lead to a confusion at one point whereby a participant was frustrated because the facilitator was deeply involved in some tone and content discussions and speaking as a contributor.

How this might be resolved in future is an interesting question. Is it best for the facilitator to be involved only in the role of facilitation or is it appropriate for the facilitator to contribute content as well? The later strategy might become an issue if the facilitator has a position on the content they are writing which is in conflict with other members of the team. Who is there to mediate this if the facilitator is 'inside' the contributor circle?

Printing Out 

In this Sprint we printed out the chapters far more often than previous sprints.


This was a very effective way of visualising the content and working our way down the table of contents, restructuring and smoothing as we went.

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